Through the Front Doors: Methodist Women's Journey Toward Ordination

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Early 20th century alternatives: Deaconess Movement

The deaconess movement had roots in the early church and contemporary rebirth in Europe and the Indian sub-continent. In those places Deaconesses committed themselves to work among the poor in ministries of love and service in Christ's name. In American Methodism women who were denied full conference membership, even as laity, attended school for up to two years of rigorous training in Bible, education, social work, nursing and evangelism to serve for no salary as Deaconesses among the poor. Over a 49 year period, the Chicago Training School educated 500 foreign missionaries and over 4000 were consecrated to Christian service at home.

The legacy of deaconesses fostered the formation of the office of diaconal ministry in the United Methodist Church in 1976. Like deaconesses, diaconal ministers were not clergy but were called to fulltime vocational commitment in ministries of love, service, and justice. In the 1996 the UMC polity allowed for those consecrated to this office to join the Ordained Order of Deacon, clergy called to specialized ministries.

A large portion of this text was taken with permission from the book Courageous Past, Bold Future: The Journey toward Full Clergy Rights for Women in The United Methodist Church by Patricia Thompson, published in 2006 by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

The narration for the audio portion of the exhibit was read by Elizabeth Luton Cook of Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

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Exhibit Items
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Deaconesses : Who They Are, and What They Do Rider Meyer, Lucy. Deaconesses : Who They Are, and What They Do (New York : Hunt & Eaton; Cincinnati : Cranston & Curts, [18--?])
This pamphlet describes deaconesses as women who are "so set free from the ordinary employments and responsibilities of a woman's life that they are at liberty to devote their whole time and strength to Christian work."
18--MEYE
Report of the Sixth Deaconess Conference Report of the Sixth Deaconess Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church held at Cincinnati, Ohio, February, 24-27 1893. [Oak Park, ILL : The Message and Deaconess World Press, 1893]
Though the Board of the Deaconess Conference was dominated by male clergy, Lucy Rider Meyer served on the executive committee and as corresponding secretary. The Deaconess Conference reported on administration of the various homes and hospitals as well as course of study in training institutes. The address to candidates for consecration begins, "We rejoice with you that in the good providence of God an open door of usefulness has been found for you in the service of the Church of Christ."
1893 METH B
Everybody's Gospel Songs Rider Meyer, Lucy. Everybody's Gospel Songs (Chicago : Distributed by the Chicago Training School of Missions, [1910?])
Lucy Rider Meyer wrote several of the songs in this collection. Proceeds went to the training of missionaries and deaconesses.
1910 EVER
As Among Methodists: Deaconesses Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

As Among Methodists: Deaconesses Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Lee, Elizabeth Meredith. As Among Methodists: Deaconesses Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (NY: Woman's Division of Christian Service, Board of Mission, Methodist Church, 1963)
Pictures on this page show the typical costume of Methodist deaconesses: plain dark blue dress with white neck ruffle and simple bonnet. The single portrait is of Lucy Rider Meyer, founder of the Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions
BV4424 .M5 L4
Belle Harris Bennett Mrs. R.W. Macdonell. Belle Harris Bennett : Her Life Work (Nashville : Cokesbury Press, 1928)
This biography of Belle Harris Bennett contains her portrait. She was the founder of Scarritt Bible and Training School and president of the Women's Home Mission Society.
1928 MACD
Record of the Woman's Home Mission Society Record of the Woman's Home Mission Society: M.E. Church, South Nashville, [1902]
This pamphlet describes the work of this lay organization in the years between 1886 and 1902, during which Belle Harris Bennett served as president. The work of this society changed from securing parsonages in needy local areas to establishing schools in urban slums to launching missions as far away as Japan.
BX8385 .W6A12

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